Queer Encounters with the US Legal System in the 20th Century

AHA Session 23
Thursday, January 3, 2019: 1:30 PM-3:00 PM
Williford A (Hilton Chicago, Third Floor)
David K. Johnson, University of South Florida
David K. Johnson, University of South Florida

Session Abstract

This session will include three papers that explore the experiences of gay and lesbian individuals with the legal system in the United States during the second half of the twentieth century. In “The Fall of Walter Jenkins: Sexuality, Policing, and Politics in the 1960s,” Timothy Stewart-Winter will use the Walter Jenkins scandal as a way to investigate antigay policing, national politics, and legal reform. What began as an election year scandal quickly became both a catalyst for reigniting the Lavender Scare of the 1950s and the beginning of a process of rendering the federal government more hospitable to gay and lesbian employees. In “Confessions of a Guilty Bystander: Civil Rights Claims in a Homophobic Age,” Alecia P. Long will take a close look at the 1967 arrest and 1969 trial of Clay L. Shaw on charges that he was a conspirator in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Long will show that despite clear violations of Shaw’s civil rights, his legal team could find no avenue through which to make a complaint with the United States Department of Justice based on Shaw’s sexual orientation. Ultimately, the absence of a legal remedy for Shaw illustrates the glaring inequalities gay and lesbian citizens faced in the pre-Stonewall era. Finally, in “Baker v. Wade and the Long Struggle to Overturn the Texas Homosexual Conduct Law,” Wesley G. Phelps will explore the federal court case known as Baker v. Wade between 1979 and 1986, which marked the first time a federal court ruled a state sodomy law unconstitutional. Paying close attention to the evolving interpretation of a constitutional right to privacy, Phelps will argue that Baker v. Wade contributed to a long-term movement to ensure legal equality for gay and lesbian individuals. Chaired by Dale Carpenter, this panel seeks to bring together cutting-edge scholarship on queer legal history in order to bring about a fuller understanding of the movement for LGBTQ rights since the 1960s.
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